Danger - Peace offensive
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Zionism & Israel Center http://zionism-israel.comIn the Middle East, diplomacy has always been an extension of war by other means, and peace settlements are the Verduns and Waterloos and Cannaes of this sort of warfare.
The purpose of a peace settlement in such warfare is to secure a better basis for renewing the war, or to secure by peace what you cannot get by war.
The Middle East is not unique in using "peace offensives" for strategic purposes, though it might be the only region where war by other means is almost the exclusive purpose of such peace offensives. Peace has been an effective weapon in the arsenal of diplomacy since before the days of Julius Caesar. Carthage was destroyed by means of a series of bad-faith peace treaties.
In the Middle East, in addition to real strategic advantages, a well timed peace offensive offers a huge propaganda advantage, which in our area is virtually equivalent to a strategic advantage. Support from the US and European powers depends on their perception that a country or party is in earnest about making peace. The abstract propaganda advantage is convertible into economic and miltary aid as well as diplomatic support. A good peace offensive can be worth several billions of dollars.
A good peace offensive requires a well coordinated plan of attack, and is rather like the static warfare of World War I. The different spokespersons must all be issuing the same sorts of bland and heart warming statements and try to avoid policy statements. Policy statements that have to be issued, must be couched in creative ambiguity so that they look like commitments to peace, but actually simply restate old positions in a nice way. "We will never recognize Israel" can be translated into "We will recognize Israel when they agree to recognize the legitimate rights and just demands of the Palestinian people." Among these demands is the demand that Israel should be destroyed, so it is the same thing as saying "We will never recognize Israel." This pre-conference publicity is comparable to the deadly artillery barrages that always preceded World War I attacks.
Accordingly, the suggestion of peace activist Gershon Baskin, that Middle East governments should create ministries of peace may well be adopted, but not for the purposes he intends.
Certainly, Israel is in dire need of such a ministry, to coordinate Israel's moves and explanations in the current peace offensive, just as such a ministry would have been helpful in 2000. The peace statements of the PLO should not hide the fact that the position of Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO has not budged since 2000. They are, after the classic World War I pattern, conducting an artillery barrace from behind fixed lines. Now as then, it is apparent that Abbas insists on the same entrenched positions: return of all the territories, including division of Jerusalem along the 1967 lines, and right of return for refugees. Those were his explictly stated positions in 2000 (see < href="http://www.zionism-israel.com/hdoc/Abbas_ROR.htm">Mahmoud Abbas: why Camp David Failed). It is evident that they are his positions now as well, as hinted strongly in his Washington Post interview, and as Israelis are beginning to understand.
As in 2000, the Israelis will make the most concessions and get no propaganda value in return. They will not get peace, because Abbas cannot deliver peace, which is why he makes conditions that Israel cannot possibly meet. As in 2000, the Palestinian position will not budge one millimeter, but because of superior tactics and deployment, they will be judged to be the victims of Israeli "inflexibility." The Fatah war with Hamas can be used, and is being used, very effectively for this purpose. Israel will stand accused of failing to help the "moderate" Abbas achieve peace.
Strategy and tactical essentials
What are the essentials of a good peace offensive campaign?
Never refuse to engage the enemy in a peace offensive - Refusing a peace offensive automatically means you lost the peace war. You are branded as a war monger.
Choose a strategic objective that it is in your power to obtain - For many years, Palestinians concentrated on obliterating Israel. This was a losing strategy that was going noplace. They began to gain popularity when they began presenting their goals as equal rights and a two state solution. But they have to keep in mind that focusing on a two state solution will eventually get just that. It can't be a stepping stone to destroying Israel. It can't include return of refugees, which would be the same as destroying Israel, and it can't include trampling on Israeli rights.
Keep the strategic objective in mind - Israel seeminlgy cannot make up its mind whether it wants peace with the Arabs or whether it wants to keep extensive territories in the West Bank. Palestinians can't make up their minds if they really want a two-state solution and coexistence, or whether they want to drive the Jews into the sea. This makes for erratic and uncoordinated offensives which can never achieve any goals.
Set up real entrenched defensive lines - Never give away the location of your defenses - your red lines - as they will immediately become the focus of an all out attack and delegitimization. Whatever you consider vital to your country and its defense will automatically merit the attention of the enemy.
Be certain your inner defenses are impregnable - Your red lines must be based on the broadest possible national consensus, and must be buttressed by values acceptable to the international community as well. Hamas's advocacy of driving the Jews into the sea is a mistake for which the Palestinians are paying dearly. Israeli extremist positions are equally unsupportable. Both may be useful as sham targets and diversionary attacks (see below).
Set up sham targets and diversionary attacks - A fake "red line" can be much more useful than a dummy airfield in a war. Stall debate around an issue like imaginary Arab rights in the West Wall, or non-recognition of the right of Israel to exist. Eventually you can trade this worthless position for real concessions from the other side. Israelis should be demanding rights to lands in Transjordan and along the Euphrates river for example. These were promised to Abraham after all.
Attack where the enemy is weak - Human rights violations of the other side and claims based on flimsy evidence or outrageous invention of "facts" can be leveraged against the other side. Israelis might gently point out that in Mohamed's journey on a flying horse, in which he visited Jerusalem, he also visited hell. The Arabs have claimed Jerusalem on account of this journey, but the Arabs have not yet claimed hell. Evidence for flying horses is also lacking.
Always be as vague as possible about your own plans - Information is a weapon. Announcing your positions is dangerous and makes them vulnerable (see above). Abbas's interview in the Washington Post was a model of ambiguity. Talk about "rights" and "peace" and other generalities that sound good. It will impressive Americans, who aren't that interested in the details and just want "Peace."
Always demand precise information from the other side, and expose ambiguities that hide weaknesses - This forces them to divulge their own weak points if they comply, and it puts them on the spot if they do not comply.
Always be willing to trade reversible, unenforceable and intangible concessions for real gains - "An end to incitement" cannot be enforced or measured very easily and it can be easily reversed. Diplomatic recognition can also be reversed, as can statements about "right to exist." Withdrawal from territories is easy to measure and not reversible.
Maintain a strong internal opposition to peace - Palestinians have the Hamas for this purpose. They can show that they cannot make concessions because the Hamas won't let them do it. Israel has the settlers, who can capture Israeli outposts and get evicted by the police. In this way, everyone can show both that their leadership is working for peace, and that there are real difficulties in the way of concessions: "Good cop, bad cop."
Maintain a constant barrage of propaganda artillery - Don't let a day pass without reminding the world that you are for peace, whilst at the same time staking out claims that you call your rights. The Palestinian Authority has been doing this with great success, staking out claims to places like Jerusalem, which have been Jewish for over a century. Thus far, Israeli response has been mostly negative and defensive.
In order to forestall the worst effects of the looming disaster, Israel has to organize its own peace offensive. This should include a description of what is on offer, as well as an explanation of clear red lines and of why they are red lines that cannot be crossed. At the same time, Israel must take every possible step to show that it is working for peace, provided those steps do not put Israel at risk or consist of permanent unilateral concessions in return for nothing.
Mahmoud Abbas wants a clear statement on Final Settlement. Israel should produce such a paper unilaterally and publicize it, and then ask for Palestinian consent and international endorsement. This paper should be designed to clear up every ambiguity in the Palestinian position, as well as to make it clear that Israel enthusiastically embraces the opportunity for peace.
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